61Joined Mar 2020


I am not actually sure I know anyone who I believe missed in the incautious direction

There's a certain rationalist-adjacent meditation retreat I can think of.

It sounds like you bore the brunt of some people's overly paranoid risk assessments, and I'm sorry to hear that.

To be concrete about my model, sterilizing groceries was the right call in March 2020 but not by June 2020 (when we knew it very probably didn't transmit through surfaces), and overall maximum-feasible alert was the right call in March 2020 but not by June 2020 (when we knew the IFR was low for healthy young people and that the hospitals were not going to be too overwhelmed).

"Be sure the act is effective" is not a good proxy for "take actions based on EV". In March 2020, the officials were sure (based on a bad model) that COVID wasn't airborne. We masked up all the same, not because we knew it would be effective but because the chance was large enough for the expected gain to outweigh the cost.

Re: COVID, the correct course of action (unless one was psychic) was to be extremely paranoid at the start (trying for total bubbling, sterilizing outside objects, etc) because the EV was very downside-skewed—but as more information came in, to stop worrying about surfaces, start being fine with spacious outdoor gatherings, get a good mask and be comfortable doing some things inside, etc.

That is, a good EA would have been faster than the experts on taking costly preventative acts and faster than the experts on relaxing those where warranted.

Some actual EAs seemed to do this well, and others missed in one direction or the other (there was a lot of rapid group house self-sorting in March/April 2020 over this, and then a slower process afterward).

I looked but didn't find those recommendations until I'd already donated! Thank you for suggesting them for others.

I agree that EA thinking within a cause area is important, but the racist police brutality crisis in the USA is the particular motivating cause area I wrote this post about, and the Rohingya don't enter into that.

One of my friends mentioned it, and it also came up in this post. They look extremely legit.

But I also could have gone with one of Chloe Cockburn's recommendations, had I seen them before I donated.

You have to carefully consider what scale means when switching between one-time interventions and ongoing projects. Cost-effectiveness means the same thing in both, though. If there are opportunities to save a marginal DALY by spending under $1000, then that will be competitive with a public health initiative.

It's not obvious to me that there are such opportunities, unfortunately. (Better suppression in the earliest days of COVID-19 would have been massively cost-effective, but it's far beyond that point now.)

If someone has a good way to save a marginal DALY from COVID-19 for $1000 or less, though, I'd be very excited.